A’Barra and the wonderful world of Valerio Carrera

If the past is a foreign country, at A’Barra you can travel the world.

I went back last night and yet again was treated to an astonishing line up of historic wines: Valdespino Jerez Seco, Viva la Pepa manzanilla (Romate), Fino Macharnudo (also Romate), a Very Pale (Alvear), JR (Bodegas Montulia), Priorato Dom Juan Forte (De Muller), the 2017 cosecha (Ximenez Spinola), Royal Ambrosiante Palo Cortado (Sandeman) and la Bota 81 de Gin (Equipo Navazos).

To be quite honest it was almost too much to take in at once. I am not a great note taker and even less when having dinner, but there were some vivid contrasts: the salted caramel of the Jerez Seco, the pure elegance of the Viva la Pepa, the refined sapidity of the Fino Macharnudo, the piercing, spirity volatile acidity of the Montulia. There were also some common themes: beautiful clarity, colour, and temperature. They were, in summary, top wines, beautifully presented.

What is clear is that there is a world of wines that I have yet to explore: different names and styles, lost bodegas and brands. It is also clear that if you want to explore that world A’Barra is one of the places you can do so. Before going to A’Barra a couple of weeks ago I probably had only had a dozen really old bottles. Fifteen days later I have lost count …

Many many thanks again and many congratulations to Valerio and the guys – really enjoyed last night and will be back again soon!

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A’Barra

A fantastic dinner last night at the “gastronomic bar” of A’Barra, where you can dine at a counter while some friendly chefs whip up a really high quality, high flavour and high fun menu, all the while sipping down an imaginative set of pairings by one of Madrid’s very top sommeliers.

You know it is going to be a good night when you are offered as an aperitivo la Bota 70 de Manzanilla Pasada de Equipo Navazos – an absolutely splendid start that, but only just the start. After aperitivos and safely ensconced at the bar the menu took off with Alvear’s Asunción oloroso – just that hint of sweetness making it a really accesible – then a juicy, herbal Assyrtiko, interloping from across the med, a marvellous Fondillón from Alicante and progressing up the coast, a chunky Aureo Añejo Seco from Tarragona.

By this stage I could contain myself no longer and went off piste because I had been told repeatedly that Valerio Carrera, the sommelier in charge here, was a bit of a legend. But even so I wasn’t prepared for the quality of what happened next, with some absolutely exceptional wines: a 1950s manzanilla Jarana from Lustau, a 1920s bottle of Fino Carta Blanca by Agustin Blázquez, a lovely old Romate oloroso and a really fine, elegant old Pukka medium dry, again by Blázquez.

I am going to give it a go in the coming days but it is not going to be easy to put into words the quality of these wines. And not just the wines, but the service, which was perfection. Opened in advance and handled with exquisite care these wines were crystal clear and had no hint of age, reduction or dustiness on the nose. They were impeccable and ready to sing out their considerable qualities. Absolutely outstanding, magical stuff from a sommelier with a superb collection and even better skills.

And oh yes, there was also a dinner. Which was cracking, from start to finish, in a great atmosphere. The bar is a wonderful setting, allowing you to chat with fellow diners, and the food and the wine beg to be discussed. There were lots of smiles and even a fair bit of laughter. As enjoyable a dinner as I have had in a long time and one that I hope to repeat very soon.

Perfect. I can’t wait to go back.

 

 

Desencaja

Desencaja is a brilliant restaurant, a bit of a hidden gem but with a lot of faithful customers. It is famed for its game during the season but just high quality at any time of year: a really top class chef – a chef’s chef so they tell me -, some fun presentations, an interesting and fairly priced wine list and a really friendly crew. One of the things I like about it is the choice of menus – you don’t have to go super big to put yourself in their hands.

And the sherry list is not at all shabby. Unusually for me, I have all the information: 21 wines by the glass covering all possible bases and another 13 by the bottle, some of which are pretty special and, well, I already said they were fairly priced …

No doubt about it, this is one for my list.

El Escaparate de Vallehermoso

Terrific lunch today at a cracking little bar in the corner of a market. May sound familiar but today a new venue in a different market – and a top quality find – El Escaparate (and when I say find I mean recommendation – many thanks Javier!)

Nothing too fancy here – classic little plates of high quality produce (we had breasts of barbary duck and wood pigeon from the great Higinio Gomez) including some slow roasted torreznos (little chunks of pork belly with their crackling) that are rightly famous.

All too often lately I have been starting posts with a “not quite a sherry temple” but no worries here – 16 by the glass, including four finos, three manzanillas, two amontillados, two palo cortados, four olorosos, a cream and a pedro ximenez. Jerez, Sanlucar and the other place represented and a strong selection featuring amongst other things the Bien Paga, Williams Añadas and the Fino, Amontillado and Palo Cortado by Bodegas Tradicion.

And although I didn’t study it in detail I had the impression they had a pretty good list in general – in particular if you are a fan of German Blanco (and you should be) – as well as beers of every description. Fun for all the family!

The One Wine, Madrid

With only one or two (admittedly high quality) sherries by the glass and a small but well chosen selection on the shelf The One Wine may not quite make it into the “sherry temple” category but it is still a very pleasant spot to enjoy a glass or two of wine with assorted trimmings.

It is not a restaurant or tavern as such, but there are lots of goodies in tins and on toast and the like. The tomatoes with tuna that I had were excellent – nice bread too – and most importantly the wines are high quality offerings.

A cracking little store/bar and a great place to try top-end stuff.

Lunch in Taberna Palo Cortado

Your average Friday in Palo Cortado means a lineup of wines that you cannot find anywhere else.

Absolutely outstanding stuff today, helping wash down some chicharrones, carne mechá, tomatoes, octopus and pluma iberica, starting with Beta, the tasty, biscuity Sanlucar bubbles from Barbadillo, via an outstanding 1952 amontillado from Toro Albala (the other place), a Marques de Poley Amontillado (also t o p), a gorgeous Harveys oloroso (from Jerez but supertop) and finishing with the Wellington palo cortado from Sanlucar and a whiskery old Garvey oloroso.

Or not quite finishing because there was time for another glass of Beta – which was really good – and a last sup of the Atamán Inquina – a lovely bitter-sweet and surprisingly drinkable tonic.

Absolutely outstanding – I have said before that we don’t deserve Palo Cortado and there has been no better demonstration than today. Viva!

Fino del Puerto Lustau in El Del Medio

Had a cracking lunch in “El del Medio” this weekend. Not a sherry destination by a long way – just two on the list – and they seem to view sherry as an aperitif, with just this and the Macarena on the list, but the food was high quality and high fun and this is a terrific fino with lots of personality.

Has that aroma of rockpools that for me really characterizes the finos del puerto: not super aromatic but a punchy noseful. Then has a heavy saline body, plenty of juice and a really fresh finish.

Perfectly decent stuff and went beautifully with artichokes and scallops. The job, as they say, is a good one.